Kenya: North Rift farmers reap the rewards of shift from exclusive maize cultivation
When a campaign urging farmers to diversify their crops was launched in the North Rift three years ago, it sparked hostility and rebellion.
In an area known primarily for maize, most grain producers saw it as a ploy by the political class to exclude them from the grain trade in order to provide an opportunity for “cartels” to import grain.
However, three years later, those who have answered the calls and branched out are now saying they made the best decision of their farming life.
In the village of Tuiyo in Uasin Gishu County, Paul Keter has ventured into growing coffee, macadamia and avocado and while waiting to start killing in the latter two crops he earns a living. thanks to the coffee.
He owns a three-acre coffee plantation with 2,600 trees. He gets 300 to 400 kg per harvest, which he says is lucrative, unlike growing corn.
While a kilogram of corn sells for between 100 and 120 shillings, coffee sells for 645 shillings, which makes it attractive.
“There is a ready market for coffee with good prices, unlike maize, which farmers find it difficult to get in the market with poor prices because the market is flooded with imports,” he said.
“The good thing about coffee is that it takes three years to mature, then you harvest twice a year. Initially I started with half an acre, but now I have increased it to three acres. “
Before branching out, Mr. Keter grew corn on 30 acres, but since coffee brought him more profit, he reduced the area under corn to 10.
He said incomes from maize, the main source of food for most households, had declined due to rising farm input costs and unstable market prices, making investments in the sub-sector unsuccessful. profitable.
In Kipkabus, Uasin Gishu, Elisha Onzilu grows tree tomatoes, which he says are more profitable than corn.
Tree tomatoes, he said, start making money for farmers after just one year, and after that they harvest twice a month for up to seven years.
“I can say that growing tree tomatoes is very profitable compared to any form of agriculture. If you compare it to breeding, raising passion fruit, growing sweet potatoes, growing cabbage, or even growing corn, they cannot have the same benefits as tomatoes. shrubby. Compared to growing passion fruit, because I have also tried it, there are many challenges, like the fact that it is very labor-intensive and the prices of tree tomatoes fluctuate by compared to other fruits. We can say that it is stable, ”he said.
From an acre, he said, he can harvest between 1,500 and 2,000 kg, earning over Sh 100,000, and with his five acres, he gets between Sh 700,000 and 1,000,000 per month.
Profits are dwindling
“In a good season, the profits of one hectare are about 700,000 to 1,000,000 Sh. Fruit cultivation is better than the widely practiced maize cultivation because the profits from the fruits will be used in other activities but in growing corn, you will continue to plow your profits every season to plant more crops, ”he said.
This type of agriculture is rapidly gaining momentum in the region as decentralized units step in to provide seedlings to farmers to improve their well-being instead of relying too much on maize, for which revenues are dwindling.
Most counties in the region have sensitized grain farmers to venture into growing coffee, bamboo, avocado and fish farming to protect themselves from the woes that have plagued the grain industry for years.
The decentralized units have proposed different initiatives to ensure that the region’s maize and tea producers seek alternative high-yield agriculture.
In Uasin Gishu, which over the years has been dominated by maize production, authorities have initiated the distribution of an assortment of coffee, avocado, macadamia and tissue culture plants worth more than 42 million shillings.
He has also trained more than 100 agricultural extension workers, who help farmers carry out diversification.
Governor Jackson Mandago called on farmers to stop relying on corn and grow more profitable crops and adopt modern techniques.
He called on farmers to consider growing avocado, macadamia, coffee and other high-value crops.
He said that there is a sufficient market for such products even abroad, hence the need for farmers to take advantage of it by venturing into agriculture.
“In Finland a lawyer costs around Sh500 and note this is the lowest quality, not a fee. I was going to Finland for other issues but they were asking if there were any lawyers here in Kenya that we can import, ”Governor Mandago said.
“We need to take advantage of these opportunities by planting more avocados and other cash crops. We should practice farming that will bring more money into your pockets.”
“We distribute coffee, avocado, macadamia and tissue culture plants to interested farmers and encourage them to diversify. The county administration has contacted some horticultural companies that will buy the harvest from our farmers, ”added Vice Governor Daniel Chemno.
Director of Agriculture Samuel Yego said: “I want to encourage young people to get into the cultivation of coffee and avocado, half an acre of these crops will bring you at least one million shillings per year. , which is roughly equivalent to the same 15 acres of corn or wheat in the same period. “
The devolved unit intends to increase the total land area cultivated in coffee by 150 acres, avocado by 500 acres, and macadamia and bananas by 45 and 115 acres respectively.
Farmers also received a major boost after the decentralized unit completed construction of a 10 million shillings hatchery in partnership with the University of Eldoret.
The county has also started distributing more than 500,000 fingerlings to farmers in an effort to encourage more residents to get into fish farming.
In Nandi, officials are working with cooperative farmers’ societies to help revive the high-quality coffee industry and support the cultivation of coffee as a sustainable source of income while preventing soil erosion.
“We have put in place an ambitious plan to reclaim all of our escarpments by introducing and promoting the planting of fruit trees and cash crops such as coffee, avocado and macadamia to not only increase food security, but also increase land cover and reduce soil erosion and landslides, ”Governor Stephen Sang said when he recently launched the seedling distribution.
He also recently distributed over 60,000 avocado seedlings and assured farmers that within two years the county would start exporting avocados to the European market, which is huge.
Agriculture director Dr Kiplimo Lagat said the decentralized unit will continue to supply farmers with new types of avocados, which are in high demand in the international market.
“Over the next two years, Nandi will be one of the major avocado and bamboo exporting countries, as the majority of farmers have reduced the area cultivated with maize due to their low income,” he said. .
He also urged farmers to ignore local leaders who have discouraged farmers from venturing into avocado and bamboo cultivation.
Dr Lagat said that they want farmers and others to invest in bamboo cultivation for economic growth and to give up corn farming and animal husbandry and diversify.
He said bamboo is in high demand in China, Japan, India and Korea and farmers need to make the most of their land to generate more income and build wealth.
He also revealed that the county has partnered with the Kenya Water Towers Agency to invest in 1,000 acres of land in the Kibirong wetland in Aldai constituency for bamboo cultivation for export.
“In China, India and Japan, bamboo is used to make furniture, food and carbon, among other benefits,” CEC said.